The pleasure of serving as a volunteer at Rosaryville Spirit Life Center has been personally gratifying, but certainly never was it my plan. Still, as author Robert Brault wrote, “Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose.”
The winding path of my personal journey leading to the holy and peaceful grounds of Rosaryville began traumatically 27 years ago in a hospital chapel; September 25, 1990. While my loving wife, high school sweetheart, and soulmate Sylvia lay in the hospital’s Recovery Room following surgery, I wept uncontrollably, alone in the tiny chapel after being informed of the diagnosis — Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer (OVCA).
Suddenly, I felt a great warmth consume my entire body: my tears immediately halted, and a sense of calmness came over me, for unquestionably at that very moment, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. A reassuring voice peacefully said to me, “Believe in me and she will be saved.”
A few days later, Sylvia and I learned from the Oncologist just how serious the OVCA diagnosis was. The data suggests only 20% of such patients survives for even five years. Still, confident in the divine message I heard spoken and had by then shared with Sylvia, we plunged forward.
Sylvia was a model patient through the nearly two years of chemotherapy. She joined and was eventually elected to serve as President of the Louisiana Division of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). The mission of NOCC is to educate women on the warning signs of this “Silent Killer” for which there is neither a reliable screening test nor a prevention, short of having the ovaries surgically removed prior to the presence of cancer.
Separately, Sylvia would meet, write, and receive phone calls from women she’d never before met who were similarly diagnosed with OVCA. As a non-professional 20-year survivor, Sylvia would listen, share experiences, and inspire hope in women who up until then felt doomed. Through her selfless volunteer work, she unknowingly taught me the meaning of life: serving God through serving others.
In October, 1999, I attended my first retreat at Manresa, a Jesuit retreat house in Convent, Louisiana. There were three nights of silent spiritual reflection where it’s said, “nobody speaks to anybody, and everybody speaks to God.” The beauty, serenity, and feeling of closeness to God is why I’ve returned every 43rd weekend in October for my annual retreat.
It was in the Fall of 2007 that Sylvia experienced a recurrence of OVCA. Obviously, we were devastated, and Sylvia angry. For it was only then Sylvia shared with me that she had prayed during her first chemo treatment in 1990 for the Lord’s grace for 20 more years of life; “We have a deal and it’s only been 17” she protested.
Again, through the grace of God, the physicians were able to maintain Sylvia’s quality of life (and mine) with a new chemotherapy protocol. Through it all we witnessed in good health the marriages of our three children and births of three grandchildren. Three years later, however, nearly 20 years from the date of her original diagnosis, another recurrence; this one with a vengeance. While I tearfully prayed for a miracle, Sylvia without ever shedding a tear resolutely said, “God answered my prayers for a miracle 20 years ago; now I must surrender to Him.”
I continued to work for three years after Sylvia surrendered to the loving arms of our Lord, hoping that by pouring myself into my work it would serve to distract me from my loss. Finally, I decided it was time to pursue my passion for finding peace and doing what Sylvia had inspired in me, the meaning of life, serving God though serving others.
Shortly after I retired in January 2014, a couple of friends invited me to serve with them on a committee at Rosaryville Spirit Life Center. I had just a few months earlier moved to nearby Springfield and had never heard of Rosaryville; nonetheless, I decided to attend one of their meetings.
Fast forward three years and I’m delighted to confess I realize a similar peacefulness on each weekly visit to the holy and beautiful grounds of Rosaryville as do I experience annually at Manresa. Furthermore, with each visit to the property of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, I have the opportunity to serve God through serving others; what is serendipitous is how personally gratifying it’s been for me.
Unquestionably, the golden thread woven through the tapestry of my life over the past 30 years that neatly pulls it all together is the Holy Spirit. #GivingTuesday #HolySpirit #Rosaryville #DominicanSistersofPeace